Ke$ha is the latest in a series of things that suck. She’s got the usual dumpset-pop trappings with an extra dose of marketing zeal. The Guardian once called her a degenerate Miley Cyrus. It’s said she broke into Prince’s house to give him her demo CD. Her avaricious self-branding is her empowerment, and is, we’re told, zero parts objectification.
It appears that the trash culture beast has become self-aware.
Not that this is news. She’s in the same league as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, bringing narrow-minded expression to the masses and dressing it up in a bubble skirt. She knows what people want and she delivers. She’s nihilism given form and a recording contract. Give a damn? Neither do I. Have some Kool-aid.
The defense has kept its mantra, and its cashflow. This music is fun. This music isn’t pretentious. This music relates to real peoples’ lives, which are also superficial and meaningless.
Still, these pathetic commentaries about how much there is to say about so little shouldn’t confuse us. There’s a huge difference between skepticism and relativism. Some notions of cultural criticism posit that since all men are created equal, it’s too difficult to say whether any one part of our culture is any better or worse than any other. Nothing matters, or everything is true, or maybe everything is false. We have no idea. People are terrified of judgment, bewildered by even the most basic of aesthetic criteria. In art as well as politics, we’d rather drink the brown dilution of ideologues than make small steps towards moderation, than suggest that there is, in fact, some amount of truth, that some ideas are better than others, and that we should admit some amount of conflict in our lives to fight for those ideas. Bipartisanship is not necessarily reason.
Bear with me.
It wasn’t always this way. On April 14, 1979, Ornette Coleman was on Saturday Night Live. He wasn’t alone. Miles, Sun Ra, Zappa, and countless others have also been on SNL’s airwaves. That was only 30 years ago, when SNL was on the fringe, experimenting, taking risks, and taking a stand every now and then. Ornette Coleman was a visionary, loved by some and loathed by others. But he had his feelings and he expressed them. Nowadays, our pop culture attracts no serious emotions, no serious thoughts. It aims only to hit the most viewers as quickly as possible, without angering too many people. Sure, people will tell you they love a song. But within a month they’ll have forgotten it. It’s temporary, and, at the end of the day, meaningless.
But Ornette does have one thing going for him. He is remembered. And there’s a big difference between SNL then and SNL now. SNL was funny then. Comedy was doing something back then. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce…those guys didn’t fuck around. They were very serious men, dangerously so, in fact. Virtually all of the musicians and comedians from that era had issues with both substances and the law. They were all conflicted, all confused. But they left you with something. Within the off-color jokes and the obscure tonalities, there was always a little voice in the back of all the open minds thinking “well, I guess that’s true, isn’t it.” And it’s that little voice that made art possible. Ke$ha made an appearance on SNL recently. I’d listened to her music videos, and I have to give her producers credit. You can tap your foot to them. Some might call them catchy. But I was surprised to see that she lacked her alpha-female presence on the live stage. Our pony is out of tricks, it seems.
The irony is that to maintain that people deserve quality and that everyday people are capable of appreciating it — in news, in music, in comedy — is to be an elitist.
This is not to say that there aren’t people who remember (or pretend to remember) that depth of feeling was once something afforded by more than the rich (Jon Stewart, raised in the same rough-and-tumble no-frills comedy circuit as Carlin and the others, comes to mind). Some day, we’ll have pop music worth tapping our feet to. Some day, we’ll listen to one of last decade’s chart-toppers and not at some lame hipster themed party. Some day, I won’t be compelled to write bitchy articles in the school newspaper about the state of modern culture.
I’ll keep a bottle Jack Daniels toothpaste around until that day comes.
Editor’s Note: This was written back when Ke$ha’s first album was released. As of August 4, 2010 Sam is still grumpy.